FBI studies two broken cameras outside cell where Epstein died: source

FILE PHOTO: U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

By Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) – Two cameras that malfunctioned outside the jail cell where financier Jeffrey Epstein died as he awaited trial on sex-trafficking charges have been sent to an FBI crime lab for examination, a law enforcement source told Reuters.

Epstein’s lawyers Reid Weingarten and Martin Weinberg told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan on Tuesday they had doubts about the New York City chief medical examiner’s conclusion that their client killed himself.

The two cameras were within view of the Manhattan jail cell where he was found dead on Aug. 10. A source earlier told Reuters two jail guards failed to follow a procedure overnight to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes.

He had been taken off suicide watch prior to his death.

The cameras were sent to Quantico, Virginia, site of a major FBI crime lab where agents and forensic scientists analyze evidence.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that at least one camera in the hallway outside Epstein’s cell had footage that was unusable. The newspaper said there was other usable footage captured in the area.

The U.S. Justice Department declined comment. The FBI and Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to requests for comment. All are investigating his death. Lawyers for Epstein also did not respond to requests for comment.

Epstein, a wealthy 66-year-old money manager who once counted U.S. President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges involving dozens of girls as young as 14.

At Tuesday’s court hearing, 16 women said Epstein had sexually abused them, with some lamenting that his death deprived them of the opportunity to obtain justice.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in London; Writing by Nathan Layne; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

Epstein’s accusers appear in court at hearing weeks after his suicide

Gloria Allred, representing alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein, arrives with an unidentified women for a hearing in the criminal case against Jeffrey Epstein, who died this month in what a New York City medical examiner ruled a suicide, at Federal Court in New York, U.S., August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Women who say Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused them voiced anger and defiance in a packed New York courtroom on Tuesday during a dramatic hearing less than three weeks after the financier killed himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

“I feel very angry and sad that justice has never been served in this case,” Courtney Wild, one of the women, told the hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman.

“I will not let him win in death,” another woman, Chauntae Davies, told the court.

Federal prosecutors appeared at the hearing to ask the judge to formally dismiss their case against Epstein.

Berman explained why he gave the women and their lawyers an opportunity to address the court.

“The victims have been included in the proceeding today both because of their relevant experiences and because they should always be involved before, rather than after, the fact,” Berman said at the outset of the hearing.

Epstein, who once counted U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of girls as young as 14.

The 66-year-old was found dead Aug. 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. An autopsy concluded that he hanged himself.

Davies said she was hired by Epstein to give massages. The financier raped her the third or fourth time they met on his private island and continued to abuse her, Davies said.

Another woman, who chose not to give her name, said Epstein’s death must be investigated.

“We do need to know how he died. It felt like a whole new trauma. … It didn’t feel good to wake up that morning and find that he allegedly committed suicide,” she said, holding back tears.

Another unnamed woman said she came to New York to become a model and was victimized by Epstein.

“I’m just angry that he’s not alive to have to pay the price for his actions,” she said.

Berman ordered prosecutors and defense lawyers for Epstein to appear in court after the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office said it wanted to dismiss the indictment against the financier in light of his jail cell death.

‘CURIOUS’ DEATH

During the hearing, attorney Brad Edwards, who represents women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, said, “I have in the courtroom today 15 victims I represent and have represented over the years. There are at least 20 more who didn’t make this hearing today.”

Edwards said Epstein’s “untimely death” was “curious,” adding: “More so, it makes it absolutely impossible for the victims to ever get the day in court that they wanted, and to get full justice. That now can never happen.”

At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey said the law required the dismissal of the case in light of Epstein’s death, but said the government’s investigation was ongoing.

“Dismissal of this indictment as to Jeffrey Epstein in no way prohibits or inhibits the government’s ongoing investigation into potential co-conspirators,” Comey said.

Epstein’s death has triggered investigations by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs the detention facility.

Epstein’s arrest in New York came more than a decade after Epstein avoided being prosecuted on similar federal charges in Florida by striking a deal that allowed him to plead guilty to state prostitution charges.

That deal, which has been widely criticized as too lenient, resulted in Epstein serving 13 months in a county jail, which he was allowed to leave during the day on work release.

Brittany Henderson, a lawyer with Edwards’ firm, read a statement from another victim, Michelle Licata.

“I was told then that Jeffrey Epstein was going to be held accountable, but he was not,” she said of the earlier investigation. “The case ended without me knowing what was going on. … I was treated like I did not matter.”

Multiple women have filed civil lawsuits against Epstein’s estate since his death, saying he abused them and seeking damages. Some have alleged the abuse continued after his plea deal and even while he was on work release from his previous jail sentence.

Just two days before his death, Epstein signed a will placing all of his property, worth more than $577 million, in a trust, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Will Dunham)

U.S. attorney general shakes up prisons bureau after Epstein death

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr is pictured after a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced a new leadership team at the federal Bureau of Prisons in a shake-up of the agency in the wake of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide inside a federal jail in New York City.

Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, a veteran of the Bureau of Prisons, will return to the agency to serve as its director, Barr said. He named another former agency official, Thomas Kane, to serve as her deputy.

The Bureau of Prisons has about 37,000 employees and oversees 122 facilities, which house about 180,000 inmates.

Hugh Hurwitz, who has been serving as the bureau’s acting director – including when Epstein was found unresponsive over a week ago in a Manhattan jail cell – has been reassigned to his prior position within the agency.

Epstein had been arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14.

An autopsy report released on Friday concluded he committed suicide by hanging.

His death at the age of 66 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan triggered multiple investigations and had prompted Barr to criticize “serious irregularities” at the facility.

“During this critical juncture, I am confident Dr. Hawk Sawyer and Dr. Kane will lead BOP with the competence, skill, and resourcefulness they have embodied throughout their government careers,” Barr said in the statement.

Barr had previously ordered the reassignment of the warden at the MCC. Two corrections officers assigned to Epstein’s unit were placed on administrative leave pending investigations.

Lawyers for Epstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

His lawyers had said in a statement last week that they were “not satisfied” with the medical examiner’s conclusions and planned to carry out their own investigation, seeking prison videos taken around the time of his death.

Epstein had been on suicide watch at the jail but was taken off prior to his death, a source who was not authorized to speak on the matter previously told Reuters. Two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed, the source added.

Epstein, a registered sex offender who once socialized with U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex and was sentenced to 13 months in a county jail, a deal widely criticized as too lenient.

Senator Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, has urged Barr to void the agreement and said “heads must roll” after Epstein’s death.

“This is a good start, but it’s not the end,” Sasse said of Barr’s announcement on Tuesday. “Jeffrey Epstein should still be in a padded cell and under constant surveillance, but the justice system has failed Epstein’s victims at every turn.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Dan Grebler and Steve Orlofsky)

Attorney general cites ‘irregularities’ at jail where Epstein died

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Monday there were “serious irregularities” at the federal prison in New York City where Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide, adding that the investigation into the disgraced money manager’s sex crimes would continue.

“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, said during a speech at an event in New Orleans.

Epstein was found dead on Saturday, having apparently hanged himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan where he was being held on new sex-trafficking charges. He was already a registered sex offender after pleading guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex.

Barr announced on Saturday that he had asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Epstein’s death.

In his remarks on Monday at the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police’s National Biennial Conference, Barr said the criminal case against Epstein was personally important to him and that the financier’s death denied his victims the chance to confront Epstein in a courtroom.

“I was appalled – and indeed the whole department was – and frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Barr said. “We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.”

Barr did not say what those irregularities were. The decision by officials at the Bureau of Prisons not to keep Epstein on a suicide watch by guards has come under scrutiny.

The prison where Epstein died is run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Prior to his state conviction for sex crimes, Epstein had counted U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton among his associates.

The New York City medical examiner said an autopsy had been completed on Epstein on Sunday but that a determination on the cause of death is still pending.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Will Dunham)

Between gun massacres, a routine, deadly seven days of U.S. shootings

FILE PHOTO: A man walks down a street past a handmade sign posted in the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, United States, July 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

By Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – A boy accidentally killed by his father during a fishing trip in Montana. A woman dead and her husband behind bars after a single gunshot in a Dallas hotel room. A teenager cut down on his porch on a warm day in Washington state.

During the week bookended by mass shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, in which gunmen killed 34 people, hundreds of others were shot to death across 47 U.S. states, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that uses local news and police reports to track gun incidents.

The deaths were the sort of everyday murders, suicides and accidents that may not grab the headlines of mass shootings, but in many ways show the true toll of the gun violence endemic to the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A man places an American flag in the pile of flowers that has gathered a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A man places an American flag in the pile of flowers that has gathered a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare/File Photo

More than 36,000 people are shot to death every year on average in America, according to U.S. government data compiled by the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That works out to about 100 a day, or one every 14-1/2 minutes. Suicides account for more than 60 percent of those deaths. Slightly more than a third are homicides.

Here are some of the victims of deadly shootings during the week between the attack in Gilroy and the attack in Dayton:

SUNDAY, JULY 28

Soon after a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Steven Parsons was sitting in a parked car with two other people 1,500 miles away in an alley in Kansas City, Missouri.

The 27-year-old died there along with another man, Montae Robinson, shot by a gunman who is still at large, police said. The third person in the car is being sought by police for questioning but is not a suspect.

“I have a wedding dress in my closet that I will never wear,” Marissa Tantillo said during Parsons’ funeral service on Wednesday evening at a chapel in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

They had two daughters together and planned to marry in a few months. She urged mourners never to take their loved ones for granted. “All I want you to do is hold your husband a little closer, hold your wife a little tighter,” she said.

Tantillo recalled a romance that began when she and Parsons were barely teenagers.

“So many of us don’t believe in love anymore,” Tantillo told the gathering. “In Steven, I knew I found my soul mate.”

Parsons had a sense of adventure as a boy, his father, Steve Parsons, said at the service. “We’d be cruising along in the old white van and he’d say, ‘What’s that way?’ and so we’d turn and go that way,” Parsons said.

People should remember the years his son lived, not the day he died, he said. “Do not let the last day destroy all the good days you had with him.”

MONDAY, JULY 29

Guests at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas heard a commotion and screams from the room where Jacqueline Rose Parguian and her husband, Peter Nicholas, were staying on Monday night.

When hotel security staff knocked on the door, no one answered. Paramedics, responding to a 911 call about a woman loudly in distress and a report of a possible drug overdose, listened to the commotion outside as they waited for police to arrive, per department rules. A noisy hour passed. A gunshot rang out. The arguing stopped. Parguian was dead.

“Jackie had a passion for beauty,” an obituary published by Parguian’s family said. She pursued a degree in cosmetology and graduated from a Dallas beauty school in 2016.

She loved ’90s pop music, especially the boy band NSYNC, and collected concert tickets in a box of memories. One of six children, she was known for checking in frequently with her younger siblings.

She was 32. Her sons are 2 and 8.

“How do we explain to those little angels that their parents are both not going to be there anymore, ya know?” Parguian’s mother said in an interview. Friends and relatives had soon pledged more than $25,000 in donations to a GoFundMe fundraiser in support of the boys’ uncertain future.

When their father, known to some Dallas music fans as DJ Pete Mash, opened the hotel room door on Monday night to police, he had blood on him and an extension cord wrapped around his neck, according to the Dallas Police Department.

Police said he seemed high on drugs and that they had to subdue him with a stun gun after he began screaming and fighting. They found a handgun in a backpack in the room near Parguian’s body.

Explaining the delayed response, police later said officers were responding to higher-priority calls that night before reports of a gunshot came through.

Nicholas, 30, was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder. He was later released on a $250,000 bond. An attorney for Nicholas did not respond to a request for comment.

“Peter is a nice young man,” Parguian’s mother, Tess Parguian, told a local ABC television affiliate. “He’s very polite, and that’s why I cannot believe he could do such a thing.”

TUESDAY, JULY 30

It was a warm day in Tacoma, Washington, and Jamone Pratt was out on a friend’s front porch when he was shot in the head. Witnesses told police they saw at least two cars speeding away. Pratt was 16 years old.

Police have made no arrests. Jamone’s mother, Kyndal Pierce, has filled her Facebook page with anguished posts, saying she’s finding it hard to go on without her eldest son, a “tall and skinny” kid the family called Junior and who was inseparable from his sister.

“He made some bad choices, you know, got involved with the wrong people,” Pierce said in an interview with a local news channel. “I don’t know what happened, but I know my baby didn’t deserve this.”

A schoolmate of Jamone’s who makes music under the name KiingCalebb recorded a rap tribute to his friend called “MonesWrld.” The lyrics include oblique references to gang rivalries.

“Thought you were going to make it to 18,” the lyrics went. “All you wanted were your dreams / but now you fly high.”

WEDNESDAY, JULY 31

Growing up in the Miami area as a black transgender woman, Kiki Fantroy faced a lot of bullying – but that never altered her natural inclination to trust and forgive other people, her mother said.

Fantroy, 21, was shot several times early in the morning after leaving a house party, becoming the 13th black transgender woman killed in the United States this year, activists say.

The killing prompted several events in her memory, including a “Take Back the Night” event held by a local transgender women’s group and a candlelight vigil.

In an interview, Fantroy’s mother, Rhonda Comer, switched back and forth between using her daughter’s preferred name, Kiki, and her birth name, Marquis, and between masculine and feminine pronouns.

Comer said she supported Fantroy’s decision to begin transitioning as a teenager.

Fantroy always had a flair for fashion, Comer said.

“He would make clothes, he would tell me what to wear, what he wanted to wear, and he would always put his twist on things,” said Comer, 44. “Kiki could take a shirt and a skirt and make it a whole different outfit; you can’t ask me her favorite color because, honey, she wore it all.”

Fantroy loved and trusted people implicitly, Comer said, a trait that sometimes worried her – especially after Fantroy was sexually assaulted and “dumped in a tomato field” at age 16 by someone she had met online.

Fantroy had just left a house party with a friend, another transgender woman, and Comer said she was convinced they were deliberately targeted. Police in Miami-Dade County have declined to call the shooting a hate crime.

Police later arrested a 17-year-old boy and charged him with murder after a witness picked him out of a lineup.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 1

Caden Lacunza, 11, had finished cleaning one fish and was just starting on the second one he had caught near Crow Creek Falls in rural Montana when he was shot in the head.

His father, Cadet, dropped the .357 revolver he had just fired, sprinted toward his fallen son and began yelling for his wife.

Hours later, he was under arrest for negligent homicide.

The details of the incident, laid out in a Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office report, indicate Cadet Lacunza didn’t intend any harm when he shot off a round in the direction of the river.

He had seen his family, including his wife, his son and his daughter, near the campfire, and decided to shoot his pistol, according to the report. While he was retrieving the gun from his pickup truck, however, Caden made his way to the river to clean the fish he had snared.

Lacunza’s lawyer, Greg Beebe, said his client was innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.

“This was just a tragic accident, and not a negligent homicide,” Beebe said. “At the center of this, we have a family who’s been devastated.”

Lacunza’s wife, Victoria, told Reuters in a Facebook message that the shooting was an accident but declined to comment further.

At the scene, officers retrieved Lacunza’s revolver, the cylinder still loaded except for a single spent round. In the river, about 10 feet from where Caden collapsed, they found a cleaned fish; the other fish was on the ground where the boy had dropped it, a small cut in its belly and a knife lying nearby.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 2

Deante Strickland came running out of his grandparents’ house in Portland, Oregon, in mid-afternoon, bleeding from the chest.

“I don’t want to die,” he said, according to a construction worker who was at a site nearby. “My sister shot me.”

Strickland, 22, died near his home despite efforts to save his life. His sister, Tamena Strickland, has been charged with his murder, as well as with wounding her grandmother and aunt.

Authorities have not offered a motive for the shooting. Tamena Strickland’s defense lawyer, Robert Crow, said it was still too early to know exactly what had happened.

“Everybody is of the belief that this isn’t who Tamena is,” he said, adding that many family members attended her initial court appearance on Monday in support of both her and her brother. Tamena Strickland has not entered a plea and remains in custody in the Multnomah County Detention Center.

Crow said neither sibling had a criminal record, and there was no outward sign of any dispute between them.

“That’s part of what makes it such a mystery to people,” he said.

Strickland was a standout basketball and football player in high school. He spent two years at a junior college in Wyoming before transferring to his hometown school Portland State University, where he played on the basketball team.

He was entering graduate school at PSU in the fall and planned to play for the football team.

Friends and teammates flooded social media with remembrances of “Strick,” praising his devotion to Portland, his near-permanent smile and his love for basketball.

In a video he filmed shortly before graduation this year, Strickland said, “My advice to you: Don’t take the time for granted. It goes by fast, so try to enjoy every moment.”

SATURDAY, AUGUST 3

It was a cheerful summer Saturday afternoon in Denise Wimberly’s house in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

As music filled her home, the 61-year-old mother of four relaxed on her couch with her niece as her son Calvin Seay got ready for an afternoon basketball game.

“He came back in the house to lay his clothes out because he was a neat freak,” she said. “Then he left to go down the street to show the neighbors the phone he just got.”

Moments after the 23-year-old left, police officers responded to an alert from the department’s gunshot-detection system.

They found Seay, a father of one, lying on the sidewalk steps from his home. He had been shot once in the head and once in the chest.

“My other son ran down the street, saying Calvin got shot,” Wimberly said. She jumped up and threw down her cigarette. “I almost set my couch on fire.”

“He was my baby,” she said. “They need to stop the shooting, because they are shooting people that they don’t need to be.” No suspects have been arrested.

Seay’s slaying was part of a bloody weekend in Chicago in which seven people were killed and at least 45 others were wounded, including a 5-year-old boy.

“What will it take for people to become sick and tired at the level of gun violence in this country?” Chicago Superintendent of Police Eddie Johnson asked at a news conference.

Seay, whose daughter turned 6 last week, loved to draw and play basketball and had just gotten a job with the Chicago Park District, where he was working with children at a summer camp.

“He was no person to go hang out on the street. He wasn’t like that at all,” Wimberly said. “He said that since he got the job, he was going to send me on vacation. That’s how he was.”

Less than 12 hours after Seay’s death, a gunman opened fire on the street in downtown Dayton, killing nine people.

Another week of gun violence in America was drawing to an end.

(Additional reporting and writing by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Kari Howard)

New York coroner ‘confident’ Epstein’s death was suicide: New York Times

An exterior view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – New York City’s chief medical examiner is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination, the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing a city official.

An autopsy was performed earlier in the day on the disgraced financier found unresponsive on Saturday in a New York City jail, chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said. A private pathologist observed the autopsy on behalf of Epstein’s representatives, which she called “routine practice.”

A determination on the cause of death “is pending further information at this time,” Sampson said in a statement.

The suspicion in Epstein’s death was hanging, said a city official not authorized to speak on the record.

The Times did not say why it could not identify the source of information on the medical examiner’s likely determination of the cause of death.

Epstein, 66, was not on suicide watch at the time in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a source said.

Epstein, a well-connected money manager, was found hanging by his neck, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The wealthy financier, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

The FBI and the Department of Justice’s Inspector General opened investigations into his suicide while he was in federal custody.

Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide or assault.

Despite that incident, Epstein was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, and he was alone in a cell in the unit of the correctional center used to isolate vulnerable prisoners when his body was found.

It was not immediately clear why Epstein was taken off suicide watch, a special set of procedures for inmates who are deemed to be at risk of taking their own lives.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the MCC, provided no explanation beyond its terse statement that Epstein was found dead in an apparent suicide.

His death touched off outrage from Attorney General William Barr, politicians and many of Epstein’s alleged victims, who fear that they may lose their day in court now that Epstein is dead.

That investigation into conduct described in the indictment, including the conspiracy count, will continue despite Epstein’s death, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said on Saturday.

The indictment – which accused Epstein of knowingly recruiting underage women to engage in sex acts, sometimes over a period of years – came more than a decade after he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a deal with prosecutors that has been widely criticized as too lenient.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Rigby)

Father of Sandy Hook victim found dead in apparent suicide: police

FILE PHOTO: Jennifer Hensel (L) and Jeremy Richman, the parents of Avielle Richman, 6, and David Wheeler (R), the father of Benjamin Wheeler, 6, victims of the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attend the launch of The Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit created in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo

(Reuters) – The father of one of the children killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was found dead of an apparent suicide on Monday morning at his office in Newtown, Connecticut, police said.

Jeremy Richman, 49, was the father of Avielle Richman, one of 20 children, all 6 or 7 years old, killed along with six adult staff members by a man with a semi-automatic rifle at the school in Newtown. It stands as one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Richman’s body was found shortly after 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) at his office, police said.

“The death appears to be a suicide, but police will not disclose the method or any other details of the death, only to state the death does not appear to be suspicious,” the Newtown Police Department said in a statement. Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office is expected to confirm the cause of death later on Monday, police said.

After his daughter’s murder, Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, created a foundation in her name that focuses on preventing violence by funding research on mental health and increasing access to treatment.

Richman, who was a neuropharmacologist, had written in a mission statement published on the Avielle Foundation’s website that his daughter’s death had left him “infinitely heart broken.”

In a statement, the foundation said that while its staff and directors were “crushed to pieces” at Richman’s death, it would continue its work of supporting research into brain abnormalities and promoting brain health.

“Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need,” the foundation said.

U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes, who represents a congressional district that includes Newtown, said in a statement she was struck by how “optimistic” Richman had seemed about his foundation’s work at a recent meeting.

“These tragedies show that the trauma of gun violence extends far beyond the initial tragedy,” her statement said.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called Richman a “good friend, a dedicated father, an esteemed researcher.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Bill Berkrot)

Suspected Arizona serial killer kills self as officers close in: police

A man suspected of killing four people in Phoenix, appears in this police sketch provided by the Phoenix Police Department, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., June 4, 2018. Phoenix Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A man suspected of killing four people, including a noted psychiatrist who advised prosecutors investigating high-profile murders, killed himself on Monday as police closed in on the Phoenix-area hotel where he was staying, police said.

Investigators had been searching for the suspect since Steven Pitt, a 59-year-old psychiatrist who consulted on serial killings and the 1996 murder of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, was found dead outside his office on Thursday, the first of a string of killings that left the Phoenix area on edge.

The suspect, who was not immediately identified, fatally shot himself in a hotel room as tactical units closed in to arrest him, police said on Monday.

The suspect also was wanted for murdering paralegals Veleria Sharp, 48, and Laura Anderson, 49, and Marshall Levine, a 72-year-old counselor and psychologist.

Officers heard several gunshots coming from inside the room as they were evacuating people from the extended-stay hotel in Scottsdale, said Sergeant Vince Lewis, a Phoenix police spokesman. No officers were injured, Lewis said.

He said police have evidence that links the four murders to the suspect, but declined to elaborate.

No motive was immediately released.

Pitt was discovered dead outside his office on Thursday, police said, noting that witnesses said they heard a loud argument followed by several gunshots.

Pitt had been a consultant in several high-profile cases, including the 2005-2006 Baseline Killer murders that claimed the lives of nine people. He also served as a consultant to prosecutors in the grand jury probe into death of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, who was found bludgeoned and strangled in her parents’ Boulder, Colorado home. No charges were ever filed in that case.

The two paralegals were shot and killed in their legal office in downtown Scottsdale on Friday, police said. One woman was found after she had walked to a nearby intersection to seek help and later died.

Officers followed the blood trail to the office and found the second woman dead at the scene from a gunshot wound.

Levine was found at about 12:10 a.m. on Saturday by an acquaintance, according to police.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone and Marguerita Choy)

Special Report: In Louisiana jail, deaths mount as mental health pleas unheeded

The outside of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is seen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Melissa Fares and Charles Levinson

EAST BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a squat brick building with low-slung ceilings and walls sometimes smeared with feces, is the face of a paradigm shift: penitentiaries as mental health care providers. Across the United States thousands of jails are sheltering a wave of inmates accused of crimes and serving time while suffering from illnesses ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

The shift is a byproduct of the plunging numbers housed in psychiatric inpatient treatment centers, a total that fell from 471,000 in 1970 to 170,000 by 2014. In Louisiana, the fallout exacerbated after a former governor shuttered or privatized a network of public hospitals that provided medical and psychiatric care to the accused.

East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is where Louis Jonathan Fano, afflicted with bipolar disorder and haunted by demons, found himself on Halloween Eve 2016 after fleeing a Greyhound Bus and wandering city streets naked and crazed.

Booked into the jail on six misdemeanor charges, Fano, 27, slit his wrists hours later. Then he was sent to solitary confinement, where he spent 92 of his 94 days imprisoned with his thoughts.

Midway through his jail ordeal, the parish handed responsibility for inmate medical care to a for-profit firm that decided Fano was “exaggerating his condition.” On January 18, 2017, it ordered him taken off his antipsychotic medication.

Two weeks later, the onetime veterinary student, who crafted letters to his mother in longhand, hanged himself.

His family rushed from California to find him unconscious in a hospital intensive care unit, where he lay until his death.

“We touched his cold hands. I talked to him but he had no life – it was just machines,” said his mother, Maria Olga Zavala. “Even with all that, they had him there handcuffed with a guard.”

Replaying that image inside her Southern California home, she asked: “Why wasn’t that guard in the jail, looking after my son before he took his own life?”

It’s a question asked often of the parish jail, where 25 inmates died from 2012-2016, at least five of whom were diagnosed with a serious mental illness or showed signs of one, jail and court records show. Fano became the sixth inmate since 2012 to die amid a mental health crisis; none had been convicted of the charges that jailed them.

From 2012 to 2016, the jail’s rate of death was 2.5 times above the national prison average, a Reuters analysis found. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, blamed most deaths on drug use, “poor health and pre-existing conditions,” and noted Louisiana has long ranked low on public health metrics.

A private consultant hired to assess treatment found the jail was substantially understaffed, with 61 percent of the psychiatric staff hours found in comparable jails. Isolation units, transformed into de facto inpatient mental health wards, were “woefully inadequate physical environments for the most unstable mentally ill.”

Men on suicide watch were given paper gowns and no sheets or blankets, but the unit was kept so cold some inmates risked hypothermia. One sought warmth by squeezing himself inside the plastic covering of his mattress.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is a vivid example of how local jails struggle to treat the masses of mentally ill filling their dank cells.

MENTALLY ILL AND INCARCERATED

Had a naked and hallucinating Fano stumbled off the Greyhound Bus a few years earlier, he likely would have received treatment at Baton Rouge’s Earl K. Long charity hospital. In the two years before its closure in April 2013, police brought 1,800 mentally disturbed detainees there for treatment, said Jan Kasofsky, Baton Rouge’s top mental health official.

Earl K. Long was part of Louisiana’s network of 10 public charity hospitals that provided medical and psychiatric care to the poor and the imprisoned. It cost the state $76 million a year to treat prisoners in these hospitals. In the spring of 2013, former Governor Bobby Jindal began privatizing or closing nine of the 10 and that $76 million cost has since been cut by two-thirds, said Raman Singh, until recently the corrections department’s medical director.

Jindal declined interview requests. Timmy Teepell, chief of staff during much of the Republican’s first term, said the system was closed for good reason.

“It was outdated, underfunded, and produced the nation’s worst healthcare results,” Teepell said. “I am surprised it lasted as long as it did into the 21st Century.”

But the shutting of the hospitals left local governments struggling to provide medical care behind bars. Cat Roule, who spent 12 years as a nurse supervisor at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, told Reuters, “Once Earl K. Long shut down, everything got much worse. There were people piling up in the intake unit. It was just madness.”

Dennis Grimes, the current warden, acknowledged the jail can’t properly treat those in need in a facility where some 800-900 of 1,500 inmates are currently on mental health medication.

“The prison is equipped to deal with disciplinary behavior, not mental health patients. It doesn’t have the things that it really needs in order to function for those who have a mental health problem.”

Medical staff, he said, “burn out, they don’t know what to do, they need some relief – and there are no mental health hospitals out there.”

FIVE MEN IN CRISIS WHO DIED IN JAIL

On February 13, 2013, as operations at Earl K. Long wound down, David O’Quin, a 41-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, was picked up by police after his father reported he was off his medications and behaving erratically. He was booked into East Baton Rouge jail on charges of disturbing the peace. Per jail policy for the mentally ill, he was placed in isolation, where inmates have little access to visitors and spend 23½ hours a day, court records show.

When O’Quin disobeyed orders, guards strapped him to a chair by his ankles and wrists and left him caked in feces and urine, the family alleged in a lawsuit. A jail nurse noted he suffered “serious psychosis” and needed to see a doctor. He didn’t see one for six days, the family said. Guards found him nude in his cell, ignoring orders and spitting, and stormed the cell with shields and mace, records say.

A day later, the jail’s psychiatrist diagnosed him suffering from serious psychosis. O’Quin spent much of the next seven days restrained to a chair in isolation. He died in that chair February 26.

An autopsy found he had died from a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot that developed in his lower legs, likely due to the prolonged period of restraint, as well as from bacterial infection likely from contact between his open wounds and feces. O’Quin’s family has reached an undisclosed lawsuit settlement with the sheriff’s office.

After his death, the sheriff’s office reviewed policies and procedures, said Casey Hicks, a spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office. Among the changes: new guidelines for using the restraint chair. “It is still used when necessary, though it now requires approval directly from the Warden or designee,” she wrote.

Howell Andrews, a Senior Special Assistant to the Parish Attorney of East Baton Rouge, which was responsible for jail medical care at the time, pointed to a review panel’s findings: “The personnel of the Prison Medical Services acted within the standard of care within the regulations and restrictions in place in this environment.”

In July 2014, Antwoin Harden, 28, was picked up by police for trespassing on the grounds of the Drury Inn, telling officers he was homeless and would rather be in jail than on the streets. In jail, Harden refused to take his medication for bipolar disorder and sickle cell anemia, said his mother, Angelo Moses. He died that month from a blood clot in his lung, related to not taking his medications, she said.

Citing confidentiality restrictions, Andrews said he could not discuss Harden’s case. But he noted: “We are unable to forcibly medicate the individuals.”

Months later, on September 19, 2014, 72-year-old Paul Cleveland was arrested after verbally threatening a court clerk and booked into the jail. On his intake forms, the nurse noted he was bipolar and on antipsychotic medications, and suffered maladies including diabetes, heart pain and rheumatoid arthritis.

Once inside, Cleveland was unable to stand in the hours-long line for patient medications due to his arthritis. His doctor sent a note to the jail saying Cleveland needed a wheelchair, and his family brought one to the front gates. But jailers never let it inside, according to court filings in a family lawsuit against the city, jail and sheriff.

Cleveland filed eight emergency medical request forms, complaining of chest pain, trouble walking to get medication, and suicidal thoughts. When he felt the requests went unheeded, he filed three formal grievances.

Once, a doctor refused to see him because he was behaving belligerently, his medical records show. Other pleas were dismissed as the ranting of a madman. “Banging on window,” said a nurse, who assigned him to a lockdown cell “for his own safety.”

Cleveland’s prescribed daily medications included the antipsychotic Seroquel, Metformin for diabetes, and Cardura for blood pressure. When he was unable to rise and walk to receive them, a jail nurse told him to “stop playing and come get your medication,” a guard testified as part of the family’s ongoing lawsuit.

“Look, they killin’ me,” Cleveland told his family, in his last jailhouse call. “I can’t hardly stand no more.”

At 2:32 the morning of November 12, deputies found Cleveland naked on the floor of his cell, covered in feces. He said he was too weak to shower. A nurse told guards Cleveland was faking “because he wants to get back to the infirmary,” a guard testified in a deposition. Two hours later, at 4:05 a.m., he was found dead in his cell. An autopsy found extensive gastrointestinal bleeding likely caused by cardiovascular disease.

“If he had been transported to the emergency room and received a very simple blood transfusion, he would have survived,” said his lawyer, Amy Newsom.

Hicks said the sheriff’s office took “appropriate action” in dealing with each of Cleveland’s medical requests.

East Baton Rouge city attorneys dispute the family’s allegations, saying Cleveland was treated by medical personnel between 15-17 times during his 50-day stay. His wheelchair was denied because there was no necessary medical approval, said the city, which disputed allegations he was too weak to take his medication.

On May 25, 2015, Lamar Johnson, 27, was pulled over by police because the windows of his Honda Accord were illegally tinted. It was a minor infraction, but Johnson had an outstanding warrant in a neighboring parish, a four-year-old charge for passing a bad $900 check.

He was booked into East Baton Rouge. When guards refused his request for a blanket, he cursed them, according to deposition testimony by two inmates in the family’s lawsuit against the city, parish, warden, sheriff and others. The guards beat Johnson, handcuffed him and pepper-sprayed him, the inmates testified.

Johnson had never been previously diagnosed with a mental illness, his family said. But in jail, his mental health took a turn. Eyewitnesses described him pacing and paranoid, muttering, “I don’t want to live.” The guards moved him to the jail’s isolation wing. “The further back you go, the worse it is, with the smell and the noise,” another inmate testified.

At 10:22 a.m. on May 30, Johnson was found hanging from cell bars. He died days later.

When his father, Karl Franks, sought answers, he said Warden Grimes had little to say. “Well, Mr. Franks, it is what it is,” Franks recounted.

The sheriff disputes allegations in the family’s lawsuit, Hicks said, finding “no evidence” Johnson expressed suicidal thoughts or had been beaten by guards.

Prison Medical Services, the city-run entity responsible for jail health care, said it was “never notified of his presence prior to being called to respond to his suicide,” Andrews said. An inmate log form, he said, showed Johnson’s name had been struck through and marked as “released.”

‘A TICKING TIME BOMB’

Johnson’s death was the fourth involving a mentally disturbed inmate since the closure of East Baton Rouge’s charity hospital. Political pressure was mounting. In August, jail medical personnel testified before council members at a public hearing.

A jail nurse, Sharon Allen, told the council the jail was filling up with mentally ill inmates and described how a nurse had to leave early because an inmate foisted feces at her. “These are mentally unstable people and there’s not enough nurses,” she said.

“We do have a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Rani Whitfield, a top medical official at the jail.

In response, the council hired Chicago-based consultants Health Management Associates to conduct a $95,000 study of the jail’s medical services.

Before the consulting firm could finish its study, the death toll rose. This time, it was 17-year-old Tyrin Colbert, arrested in November 2015 at his high school for an alleged sexual assault of two younger boys. The waifish teen – standing 5’11” and weighing 129 pounds – reported feeling suicidal soon after he was booked.

Placed in isolation, Colbert said he was hearing voices and told medical staff he needed help, court records show. Dr. Robert Blanche, a psychiatrist contracted to work part time at the jail, assessed Colbert through the bars of his cell. “He is not suicidal; not depressed; he was manipulating,” Blanche noted in the jail’s electronic record-keeping system. He ordered the suicide watch discontinued.

Blanche did not respond to requests for comment. He, Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III and Warden Grimes are among defendants in the family’s lawsuit.

Four days later, another deputy said he found Colbert rocking back and forth and talking to a wall. Colbert said he had an imaginary friend named Jimmy. This time, Blanche concluded Colbert “may be psychotic (or he is malingering),” he wrote.

Hicks said Colbert requested to be taken off suicide watch. He returned to the general population and into a cell with another inmate, also 17, who choked him to death with a blanket on February 17, 2016. “Colbert did not report any threats or complaints concerning his cellmate,” said Hicks.

The private consulting firm’s findings, submitted to the Metro Council four months after this latest death, were damning.

Warden Dennis Grimes opens the doors to holding cells of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana March 5, 2018. Picture taken March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Warden Dennis Grimes opens the doors to holding cells of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana March 5, 2018. Picture taken March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

PRIVATE FOR-PROFIT PRISON CARE

The jail had just 36 percent of the physician staff hours found in comparable facilities. Jail staff failed to distribute prescribed medications nearly 20 percent of the time. A powerful anti-psychotic was being used widely to treat routine insomnia and keep inmates docile.

HMA concluded East Baton Rouge would need to double its $5 million annual budget to meet the minimal standard of inmate medical and psychiatric care.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, on January 1, 2017, the city hired CorrectHealth LLC, a private for-profit firm specializing in prison health care. The Atlanta-based firm promised to bring the jail’s medical care up to standard for $5.2 million a year, half of what the consultant cited.

CorrectHealth is among at least a dozen U.S. firms specializing in for-profit medical care behind bars. Today, it holds contracts to provide inmate healthcare at more than 40 facilities in the southeast, a spokesman said.

When it took over medical care in East Baton Rouge, Fano had been there two months.

Jonathan Fano, who committed suicide while in custody at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 15, 2018. Vanessa Fano/Handout via REUTERS

Jonathan Fano, who committed suicide while in custody at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 15, 2018. Vanessa Fano/Handout via REUTERS

His jail journey began as the Greyhound Bus idled at the Baton Rouge depot, amid a cross country journey from Miami to his California home. Sitting on the bus, he grew deeply paranoid.

“He said that all the people on the bus knew what he was thinking, that they were judging him, and that he felt sick,” recalled his mother. Fano, showing signs of schizophrenia, sometimes cleared his mind by walking the streets so long his bare feet blistered.

“‘Just focus your mind on coming home, don’t look at anyone, stay calm,’” Zavala told her son.

He fled the bus. Hours later, Baton Rouge police found him wandering the streets “naked and running around … hollering and cussing at imaginary people” and tearing down mailboxes, an arresting officer wrote.

Locked up, he begged for help. He filled out a medical request form November 25, 2016, complaining of anxiety and saying his antipsychotic meds weren’t working. “Feels as if the walls are closing in,” he wrote in December. Soon, a guard noted in all-caps that Fano “NEEDS TO SEE PSYCH.”

CorrectHealth took over New Year’s Day 2017. On January 11, an employee wrote Fano was “faking bad or exaggerating his condition.” Psychiatrist Blanche assessed Fano through the bars of his cell, concluding he “doubts serious mental illness, will begin tapering meds.” He ordered Fano’s anti-psychotic medicine reduced to 5mg and then discontinued after a week.

On February 2, Fano was found hanging from a torn mattress cover knotted to the bars of his cell. Under jail policy, the warden said, guards are supposed to check on inmates on suicide watch every 15 minutes and document what they see. But such checks didn’t come for Fano in the 11 hours before he hanged himself, video reviewed by Reuters shows. The reason: The warden said medical staff had months earlier taken Fano off suicide watch.

He died three days later. His mother now visits his grave every week.

John Ritter, a spokesman for CorrectHealth, said the company could not comment on pending litigation. He said company-run facilities “have been successfully audited against national correctional healthcare standards on numerous occasions.”

Warden Grimes defended the jail’s policy of placing inmates in isolation. But he said he had no easy answers to the jail’s challenges.

“The only way you’re going to stop someone from killing themselves is if there’s an officer there monitoring them 24/7,” the warden said. “And that’s just not possible.”

REFORM THAT LIVES AND DIES WITH POLITICS

As the deaths mounted, some city leaders began to feel pressure. O’Quin, whose last breaths came in a restraint chair, was from a prominent philanthropic Baton Rouge family. His father, Bill O’Quin, former president of a financial services publishing firm, mobilized business interests who joined the city’s first African-American mayor, Kip Holden, to push for a solution.

They drafted a plan to build a new mental health treatment center that would take in mentally ill people picked up by police. The center was modeled after one in Bexar County, Texas, where the sheriff said the facility saved the county $50 million over five years thanks in part to a sharp drop in incarceration rates of the mentally ill.

In Baton Rouge, winning approval for a tax to fund the center required support of the 12-member East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council. To muster support in the district, backers sought the endorsement of one of the parish’s most powerful forces: Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who runs the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. “If he didn’t support it, then our prospects were zero,” said William Daniel, former chief of staff to then-Mayor Holden.

Gautreaux is a tough-talking career lawman who had long pushed the city to bankroll a new jail. “The plan was, let’s give the sheriff a new jail, and we’ll get our mental health center,” said John Davies, CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a philanthropic development fund that was among the driving forces for the mental health center.

Negotiations took place in Gautreaux’s office, adorned with taxidermied hunting trophies, animal skin rugs, and crossed rifles inmates had carved from wood, said those present.

The sheriff wanted the largest parish jail in Louisiana, a 3,500 bed facility, more than double the current size, attendees said. Mental health center supporters pushed back. Crime had been on the decline in Baton Rouge, they argued. Plus, the mental health center would divert many inmates from jail, citing the Texas example.

In Louisiana, sometimes dubbed the “world’s prison capital,” filling jailhouse beds means big money for sheriff’s offices. Any Louisiana sheriff with capacity to spare can house state prisoners and receive a fee of about $24 a day per inmate. Over 50 percent of Louisiana state prisoners are held in local jails, far more than in other states. Sheriffs boost their budgets by hiring out inmates as cafeteria workers at the statehouse, for instance.

“In Louisiana, anytime you want to pass a law moderating the drive to imprison people, you have this almost insurmountable opposition from the sheriffs,” said Jon Wool, with the Vera Institute for Justice, a nonprofit opposing mass incarceration.

Hicks said Gautreaux backed the mental health center from the start, and that the new jail size was determined by outside consultants. “The sheriff did not demand any particular size of the jail,” she said.

In the end, the package that went to the 12-member council for a vote in January 2015 included a 2,500-bed jail and package of new criminal justice facilities.

Advocates thought they had wrangled just enough support from the council’s tax-wary Republicans to endorse a $330 million bond measure. But at the last minute came defections from key Democrats. “This was just difficult to swallow with such a large prison component,” said council member Tara Wicker.

A mental health center was put again to a standalone citywide vote in 2016. It narrowly lost.

(Additional reporting by Ned Parker, Linda So and Grant Smith. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Spurned advances provoked Texas school shooting, victim’s mother says

Candles are lit behind images of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School during a vigil in League City, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

By Liz Hampton

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – A teenage boy charged with fatally shooting eight students and two teachers during a gun rampage at a Houston-area high school had been spurned by one of his victims after making aggressive advances, her mother told a newspaper.

Sadie Rodriguez, the mother of Shana Fisher, 16, who was killed in the attack, told the Los Angeles Times that her daughter rejected four months of aggressive advances from Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, who is in jail accused of murdering 10 people early on Friday at the high school in Santa Fe.

Fisher finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, the newspaper quoted her mother as writing in a private message to the Times.

(For graphic on timeline of major mass shootings in the United States since 2007 click https://tmsnrt.rs/2LfKug6)

“A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn’t like,” she said. “Shana being the first one.”

Rodriguez could not independently be reached for comment.

If true, it would be the second school shooting in recent months driven by such rejection.

In March, a 17-year-old Maryland high school student used his father’s gun to fatally shoot a female student with whom he had been in a recently ended relationship.

Police said Pagourtzis confessed to Friday’s killings after he was taken into custody, but authorities have offered no motive yet for the massacre, the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school in modern history.

The Santa Fe Independent School District (ISD) denied accounts from some classmates that Pagourtzis had been bullied, including by a football coach.

“Administration looked into these claims and confirmed that these reports are untrue,” it said on Saturday in a statement.

Classmates at the school, which has some 1,460 students, described Pagourtzis as a quiet loner who played on the football team. He wore a black trench coat to school in the Texas heat on Friday and opened fire with a pistol and shotgun.

Mourners attend a vigil in memory of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in League City, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Mourners attend a vigil in memory of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in League City, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

‘THE AFTERMATH’

In Santa Fe on Sunday, many churches and businesses had signs outside with messages such as “Santa Fe strong” and “Santa Fe ISD we are here for you.”

About 100 people attended an emotional service at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Service dogs were in a nearby hall to help console grieving victims.

Jared Black, one of the students killed, attended a youth group at the church, and many of its members embraced his mother Pam when the family arrived.

At a mosque in another Houston suburb, mourners crowded around the coffin of 17-year-old Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student who died in the rampage.

It was the latest rampage to stoke a long-running national debate over gun ownership, three months after a student-led gun control movement emerged from a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 teens and educators.

Many of those student activists have taken aim at the pro-gun National Rifle Association.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” NRA President Oliver North said students should not be afraid to attend class, but that his gun-rights advocacy group did not think the solution was to limit the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“I believe that we can make sure kids are protected without taking away the rights of law-abiding citizens,” North said, calling for metal detectors in schools and more use of the NRA’s offer to schools of free security assessments.

Pagourtzis has provided authorities little information about the shootings, his attorney, Nicholas Poehl, said, adding: “Honestly because of his emotional state, I don’t have a lot on that.”

Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, told reporters that Pagourtzis obtained the firearms from his father, who had likely acquired them legally.

Abbott also said Pagourtzis wanted to commit suicide, citing the suspect’s journals, but lacked the courage to do so.

Pagourtzis’ family said in a statement it was “saddened and dismayed” by the shooting and “as shocked as anyone else” by the events. The family said it was cooperating with authorities.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Rich McKay and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Peter Cooney)